SB 4 and the Domestic Workers Fighting Against It: “We have a beautiful sisterhood”

Araceli Herrera

Amid the continuous attacks on undocumented immigrants across the United States, on September 25th courts permitted key elements of Texas’ Senate Bill 4 to go into effect, which allows police to work with immigration officials in detaining suspected undocumented people. SB 4 acts as a ban on sanctuary cities, by allowing police to inquire about immigration status during routine traffic stops, keeping undocumented people detained in jails, and punishing officers or city officials who refuse to comply with the legislation.

Opponents of the bill have raised concerns over the bill as infringing on people’s First and Fourth Amendment rights, and the risk of increased racial profiling during traffic stops. With the increase of racist, anti-immigrant sentiment permeating the country, it is a legitimate concern for those who are undocumented who may fear that they are one stop away from being detained and deported.

That concern has not stopped those who most at risk from speaking out against it. Many immigrants living in Texas have raised their voices in opposition to the bill, most notably domestic workers who fear they are most at risk because of the precarity of their jobs.

Araceli Herrera is a domestic worker who cleans houses for a living and was an undocumented worker for years. She was the founder of Domésticas Unidas, a coalition of domestic workers which fights to empower and educate undocumented domestic workers in San Antonio. The coalition is based on camaraderie and sisterhood among groups of domestic workers who met on a bus route before they started their workdays. Meeting on public transportation, the group could assist one another in instances of illness, which prevented a member from receiving her wages, to offering condolences after the death of a relative. When the bus route was suspended, the women organized, fought, and won the restoration of the route four years later. The group’s official motto became, “Cooking, Cleaning, Organizing and Fighting, The World Changes.”

Domestic workers in Texas have been subject to exploitative labor conditions that could be exacerbated if SB 4 isn’t struck down. 59% of all domestic workers are undocumented and 26% of those domestic workers are live-in nannies, placing them at the mercy of their employers. Many are subject to slave like conditions, abuse and exploitation, afraid to speak out because of their employers’ threats of report and deportation.

Live out domestic workers, who rely on having cars and driving to get to their jobs, do so without a license, as Texas has not issued driver’s licenses to non-naturalized citizens in nearly six years. Domestic workers in Texas therefore need to carefully navigate the public and private sphere for fear of deportation in all walks of life.

In response, domestic workers have organized workshops that educate undocumented women on the rights they have during traffic stops. Fear and anxiety about SB4 has persuaded many that ignorance of the law is the wisest route. According to Araceli Herrera, “Many don’t want to know how SB4 will hurt them because they are scared. They go with their little kids and open their eyes when their questions are answered.”  Instead of hoping and praying for the best,  Domésticas Unidas workshops advise undocumented immigrants in Texas to memorize their respective lawyer’s phone number.

Although racist ideology concerning undocumented people has won at the state level in Texas, the sisterhood of Domésticas Unidas forges forward, undeterred. Undocumented domestic workers and supporters have been out in force, marching in San Antonio, and protesting at the State Capitol in Austin. Workers have put their undocumented status on display, fighting against a bill that will put themselves and their families in jeopardy. During such time, they will make sure to provide advocacy campaigns to empower other domestics to fight for their rights against exploitation and abuse at their place of employment as well. In the words of Araceli Herrera, “We have a beautiful sisterhood.”


(Photo Credit: Scott Ball / Texas Monthly)

Puerto Rico Needs Help, Not Tweets from a Narcissist

A mayor from United States’ territories should not have to beg for aid from the president and the government, but San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz had to do just that in the face of a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico after a catastrophic hurricane decimated the small island on Sept. 20th, with very little in the way of a recovery effort to relieve the island.

“I am begging you. Begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying,” Cruz pled during a press conference on Friday. “If anybody is out there listening, we are dying. And you are killing us with the inefficiency.”

Has Trump responded to such dire requests? Have the pleas from Cruz gone unanswered, or is the administration up to task with helping American citizens-because yes, they are-to recover from a devastating hurricane that has destroyed power grids in the region, decimated homes, and shuttered hospitals because of the damage?

What we have seen from the administration is blatant lies upon lies. From Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke calling relief efforts in Puerto Rico a “Good News Story” to Donald Trump going on a rampage of tweets vilifying the San Juan mayor, voicing doubt that the country’s debt burden would interfere with relief efforts to this: “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are ot able to get their workers to help. They … ” “… want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”

The Trump administration has used this rhetoric to stereotype Spanish speaking people since the beginning of his campaign. Hashing racist ideology that communities of color are lazy, asking for handouts, or demanding things be done for them; they, the other, are leeching off a system that should only benefit Americans (except for the fact that they are Americans). It’s an unacceptable rhetoric to be able to demonize people because they are not equally working just as hard in recovery efforts even though they are the victims of the hurricane disaster. Yes, help should be given to them, unequivocally, without anything asked of them in return.

This is Trump pandering to his base: white supremacists who only got a mild scolding whilst carrying torches to preserve their racist history, who were called good people even as they carried swastikas alongside the Confederate flag and killed a woman brave enough to stand against their bigotry.

This is Trump attacking people who are critical of him, labeling them as other and as others they are bad. He is separating himself and his base from the others, dividing an already perilously partisan country. Puerto Rico needs help, it needs resources and funds from the government to help begin rebuilding, and not a slipshod excuse for a relief effort enmeshed in racially charged language.

Trump and his administration claim that relief efforts are well underway. That is simply not the case. Citizens of Puerto Rico, along with the mayor, have criticized the president by delaying reconstruction and rescue efforts, and failing to successfully meet the needs of the island’s inhabitants.

Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz may have borne the brunt of Trump’s lambasting, but she is far from backing down from the fight to secure the safety of her citizens. Trump will once spend his weekend away from the White House, golfing, and Cruz continues to be at the forefront of the relief efforts, working to make sure that citizens of San Juan are safe and secure. She is the woman at the forefront of the struggle for resources, demonstrating what good leadership is. Trump’s response to Puerto Rico will become his legacy, on top of the racist, sexist, xenophobic and divisive policies that will mark his first nine months of office. Today one only needs to look to women to see what true leadership is like.

To help the citizens of Puerto Rico, consider donating or volunteering your time to these organizations:

Mayor Cruz wades through flooded streets looking for residents in need

Bustle also has a list of organizations that are working to help women impacted by Hurricane Maria as well.

(Photo Credit 1: Washington Post/Thais Llorca/European Pressphoto Agency-EFE) (Photo Credit 2: Inverse)